Thursday, June 30, 2016

   
    From Trinidad Head; June 30, 2016.

How Terribly Strange

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The New Civil Right

Congress adjourned early for the Fourth of July weekend, but eventually it will return to Washington--and maybe a suddenly changed Washington.  I can't let too much more time go by without taking full note of what happened in the last days before its early break.

Without warning, a group of House Democrats staged an actual sit-in in the House of Representatives, demanding a vote on a gun control bill.  It was officially begun at the House podium by Rep. John Lewis, one of the last great heroes of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

"I wondered, what would bring this body to take action?” thundered Lewis, who as a young man marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “What is right, what is just for the people of this country? … They have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence. What has this body done? Nothing. Not one thing.”

Commented the LA Times: The scene, including chants of “No bill, no break!” was like nothing that has occurred in Congress in recent years, more reminiscent of the civil rights battles of the 1960s than today’s often predictably scripted debates.

The ranks of protesters grew until nearly every House Democrat (one who hadn't joined yet got a phone message from his mother telling him to get down, and he got) and even a few Republicans joined in.  Democrats from the Senate came over to offer support, not just in words but in the more spirited form of tasty junk food.

The protest went on into the night, and culminated in a surreal scene of protesting House members disrupting GOPer Speaker Paul Ryan's attempt to ignore them and conduct majority business.  He finally had to adjourn.  Amy Davidson provides a fuller narration.

The protest, according to the WAPost, was about more than gun control. "It was the culmination of rising Democratic anger about the increasingly conservative reign by the GOP House majority..." and in particular about Ryan's reign. "Even Democrats who admire Ryan said they were done treating him with grace and that more disruptions would come in the months ahead. “There will be no more business as usual,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who served four years as the top Budget Committee Democrat while Ryan chaired the panel."

The specific bill at issue had to do with denying guns to people on terrorist watch lists, which as Jelani Cobb noted in the New Yorker, has civil liberties problems due to the secrecy and lack of recourse involved in some of those lists.

 Cobb's main point is that such a bill really doesn't confront the daily crisis of gun violence.  But the sit-in itself recognized this, as members of Congress spoke in heartfelt terms of constituents killed and maimed by guns, or even family members, or even threatened by guns themselves.  (Not to mention Gabby Giffords, who sent her support for the sit-in in the House where she would still be a member if not for her gun wounds.)

Such a bill doesn't confront the gun tragedies that continue, such as the gun-proud mother in Houston who shot her two daughters repeatedly until they were dead.  Nor does it confront the power of the NRA or its financial backers, the gun industry (subject of a powerful New Yorker piece, "Making a Killing.")

  But that a bill intending only to keep likely terrorists from buying guns (even as the Supreme Court affirmed laws preventing anyone convicted of domestic abuse from ever buying a gun) would be politically impossible to even discuss, suggests how far the Congress is from dealing with this deadly problem.

It is precisely in such cases of intransigence that a sit-in becomes a necessary and an electrifying tool.  Cobb confirms my impression, that the sit-in and particularly the leadership of John Lewis elevates the gun debate into the realm of civil rights--the right to be protected from gun violence.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brexache

The ongoing drama of  Brexit consequences is so full of incident coming thick and fast that it's impossible to keep up, so this is the last attempt for awhile.

But those consequences--not just currency and stock market drops but several cuts in the UK's credit rating, which has longer term costs--prompted a flurry of speculation on do-overs.  The New York Times provided several ways that the UK could exit Brexit, and in the New Yorker, Brit-born John Cassidy wrote a column suggesting: "Four days after the British public voted, narrowly, to leave the European Union, there are reasons to doubt that the referendum result will ever be implemented."  Update: Joining in the speculation of how Brexit could be reversed was US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Though neither the Times nor Cassidy went so far to say a Brexit exit is likely, it was clear than many in the UK that voted to Leave--including some of the leaders of the Leave campaign--were having serious second thoughts.  One Leave promise after another was being shot down, and as it became clearer that leaders on both sides were playing politics (Cameron for calling the referendum in the first place, and Leave leaders jockeying for power), both the Conservatives and Labour were in such chaos that they are unable to provide leadership at this crucial moment.

Seeing all this, PM Cameron went a step further and said he would not initiate Brexit by officially calling for the EU's Article 50 to be invoked--that it would be up to his successor, who would not be in place until late September at the soonest. And probably longer than that.

However, the mood within the EU hierarchies was swinging back and forth.  Calls for patience and calls for quick resolution came simultaneously.  Cameron had to attend an EU meeting, where he was met with pity and anger, and one of Brexits most extreme leaders, Nigel Farage, gave a Europe-hating speech at the EU parliament, and was greeted with boos and other members turning their backs on him.

Back in England, as young Remain supporters were preparing for street demonstrations, it was suggested that many of them neglected to vote in the referendum.  Hate crimes and abuse against people from immigrant populations increased so much that PM Cameron took to the floor in Parliament to condemn them.

The targets of abuse included Polish immigrants--something that hasn't happened in the US for awhile, but perhaps Trump can revive it.  Or is that the real reason he fired Corey Lewandowski?

Start It Up

This week Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren campaigned together for the first time and electrified an Ohio audience.  Clinton complimented Warren for so skillfully and regularly getting under Trump's "thin skin."  Sure enough, Trump quickly went after Warren again with his usual innuendo and racist remarks--and with the offensive in so many ways "Pocahontas."  (New York mag is among those providing the background on his Trumped-up charges of a Native American heritage claim.)

Hillary, by the way, actually has a laugh line in her economic analysis of Trump:  "He's written many books on business, but they all seem to end at chapter eleven."

Hillary's good polling news continued with a lengthier lead from NBC, and just as Trump's attempts to turn the Orlando tragedy into a terrorism scare didn't improve his poll standings, Greg Sargeant at WAPost suggested that Brexit was more likely to ultimately help Hillary than Trump.

With the GOPer convention the next political event on the calendar, Trump was acting like a mob boss in his with me or against me attitude towards speakers, as with the support of the RNC he concentrated on getting loyalists into key positions to quell any idea of revolt.

But so many Republican officeholders--as well as all living GOP former Prezs and presidential candidates--not planning to attend the convention, it's not clear how Trump is going to fill the time.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the event shortened by a couple of days.

Once again I was almost shocked to see the byline on a trenchant column dissecting the disastrous details of the WAPost/ABC poll for Trump, and arguing that Trump is very unlikely to come back from his catastrophic standing with voters--it was Jennifer Rubin, author of the Post blog called The Right Turn.

Who You Gonna Call?

West Virginia is most prominently known this year for anti-regulation and anti-government politics, and--enslaved to predatory coal companies--for climate crisis denying.

But experiencing an unprecedented onslaught of rain and flash flooding--the kind of extreme weather global heating science predicts--West Virginia is in need, and suddenly dependent on...government.  Specifically the federal government, via President Obama's declaration of a major disaster:

"This federal support will provide much needed assistance to severely-impacted regions," West Virginia's governor Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement. "As emergency response efforts continue, with members of the National Guard and local emergency responders hard at work helping our neighbors, we will continue pursuing additional assistance for all affected areas."

This comes after FEMA officials toured some of the most impacted areas on foot and by air on Saturday.

It's easy enough to fulminate against easy targets of bureaucratic screwups, or of ego-bloated, doubletalking politicians.  And very appealing to say to people that they should keep their money because government is the problem, so starve it of taxes.

But then something big happens, and people depend on government to bring the resources, the expertise, the humanpower, quickly and effectively.  Just as they depend on government to ensure their food isn't poisonous, or their drinking water.  Or that there is a public health system with the resources and expertise to deal with big problems, maybe several at a time, and even be ahead of the curve.

But thanks to the anti-government fulminators, all of these are now political.  Even the funding to confront the dangerous Zika virus is mired in politics--Congress can't just vote the funds necessary, Republicans must blackmail the President with the nation's health to get partisan legislation that can't get otherwise.

But when you've got catastrophe and you need help, who you gonna call?  It ain't Ghostbusters.  And it sure ain't Republicans in Congress.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit: Buyer's Remorse (With Updates)

Apart from the folks who may not have known what they were voting to leave, there are others having strong regrets.  Two and a half million of them instantly signed a petition for a do-over referendum.  Parliament has to discuss it, but the petition as written is a non-starter.  Update Sunday: It's 3 million signatures now and a Labour MP on BBC radio said it was Parliament's responsibility to make the decision.  Also this and other signs of buyer's remorse--from Brexit supporters.  A Reuters piece went so far to say: "To leave, or not to leave: that is the question. Still. After Britain's historic vote to leave the European Union, there is no indication that a so-called Brexit will happen soon. It maybe never will.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who is resigning, has said he will not take the formal step to an EU divorce on the grounds that his successor should. Because the referendum is not legally-binding, some politicians are suggesting a parliament vote before formally triggering Brexit." 


The Wall Street Journal reports that European leaders are changing their tune about demanding a swift process, and some "suggest giving Britian a chance to reconsider its decision."

 Leadership struggles in the Conservative and Labour parties intensified, as in the words of the Washington Post: "The turmoil here underscored the degree to which the decision to break with Europe — an action seen widely here as the most significant event in the postwar history of Britain — has left the country politically divided, deeply unsettled and in uncharted territory on multiple fronts. "

As for general lessons applicable to the US, Jonathan Freedland at NYReview of Books writes: "it suggests that even great nations, those whose democratic arrangements were once regarded as a beacon to the world, are capable of acts of grievous, enduring self-harm." 

Meanwhile, a WAPost column suggests why many who didn't sign that petition will live to regret voting for Brexit.  It reflects my own puzzlements over the stated reasons, as this won't help any of them, so we are once again left with the irrational, from understandable if on balance misguided national pride to racism, unfocused rage and despair, to anarchical death wish.

Meanwhile the BBC has a clear summary of the process going forward (with graphics!) as well as a roundup of the fallout, so to speak.

To add another theatre of the absurd layer to all this, Donald Trump was in Scotland as the Brexit vote happened.  He was on a diplomatic mission opening his two golf courses in Scotland.  I give credit to major media for several articles immediately fact checking his "disciplined" speech on Hillary, but this Scotland adventure illustrates why the media can't stay away from Trump---he's just too tempting an inspiration for comic copy, even if it's basically gallows humor.  For example, Jenna Johnson's chronicles in the Washington Post, and Liz Jones in the UK Daily Mail.

Among the people Trump managed to insult were GW's Treasury Secretary Paulson (who endorsed Hillary in a WAPost takedown) and Trump's own foreign policy advisers--"most of them are no good."   In the past several days Trump lost foreign policy advisers for George Bush I and II, columnist George Will, who resigned totally from the Republican Party (all of whom are voting for Hillary) and reportedly "many experienced GOP strategists."

Two new polls--Reuters and Washington Post/ABC--show Clinton with a double digit lead over Trump, whose negatives remain at oceanic depths.  In the Post poll, Clinton  is just above the 50% threshold, an important indicator.  Two-thirds of respondents don't believe Trump is qualified.  Clinton has solidified support among Dems (including Bernie's) but Trump hasn't among GOPers.  However, an NBC poll also out Sunday gives Hillary a much more modest lead, and a CBS polls shows some swing states are close, although Trump isn't ahead in any of them.  President Obama's approval rating has gone higher, to 56%. These and other polls analyzed here.

Back to Brexit, the images above and below were two submitted in response to a call for expressing responses to it in five words or an image.  The one below may take a moment to suss out (as the Brits say--it's about the consequences of leaving) but it's the most trenchant.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Broke It

Brexit washes over today's news like a tidal wave.  The UK referendum vote to exit the European Union has already led to Prime Minister Cameron resigning (effective at a date to be determined) and may well lead to early elections.  It has thrown the UK political parties into chaos, and more than one leader may fall. Scotland is now likely to vote for independence in the hopes that it can rejoin the European Union (that country voted heavily to remain), and the politics of Northern Ireland and the non-UK Republic of Ireland also got more complicated.

If the UK is in shock at the outcome, the US is stumbling from not having paid much attention to the vote, especially with the likelihood--including election day polls--that the status quo would be maintained.  Today the US stock market tumbled along with other financial markets around the world, the British pound fell into a hole it isn't likely to climb out of for awhile.

All this over something that hasn't happened yet, and may not for a couple of years. British Parliament has to have a vote on enabling legislation, and there's a negotiation of terms process that involves all 27 EU countries.  Right now the EU leadership is pissed off and says it wants a quick divorce, but nobody actually knows whether this spins forward out of control, or as the reality sinks it, the process slows and disappears from the headlines.  There's even the possibility that the final agreement in a couple of years will be put up for another referendum.

The stated issues are loss of some control to the central EU bureaucracy, the costs paid to the EU, and immigration.  Though there seems a racist element to the anti-immigration argument, it's probably more complicated.  The only immigration the EU mandates is from other EU member countries, which basically means Poland.  Racially GB is still 87% white, but "white" means different things to different people.  The fear of possible future refugees from Syria was exploited.

More worrisome to anyone who knows a little about 20th century history is a possible reversal of the trend of European unification.  Two world wars started with a lot of separate small states and competing alliances in Europe, after centuries of earlier if less globally devastating wars the same way.  The vote has energized and may embolden right wing groups in other EU countries that advocate exit and ultimately dissolution.

The power elites and the global 10% do bear a lot of responsibility for ignoring the plight of the 90%, particularly due to EU (and UK) austerity after the Great Recession.  They are the ones who will be hurt first by Brexit--from London banks to the British film industry.  But of course the price will ultimately be paid by the employees and the economy as a whole, as it always is.  If they are smart, they will respond, and quickly.  Though countering a wave is a lot more difficult.

The Brexit vote wave was inundating the world when Donald Trump showed up in Scotland to open his golf course, which is already apparently underwater (in the financial sense) and has pissed off a lot of Scots.  Though he was described as pretty clueless about the significance of the vote, he predictably made common cause with it.  People are angry, he said.

But the real question that Brexit raises is are they apocalyptically angry.  UK leaders were confident that Brexit wouldn't pass because they had so graphically described the catastrophic economic consequences, including a steep drop in average income.  People would be sensible, especially British people.

But they didn't listen, leading to the sense--or the fear--that this anger is so strong that a large enough segment of the electorate is willing to burn the house down.  So apart from his white separatist base, Trump is counting on millions of votes from people who not only don't care that he is clueless, crude and infantile--they like it, because it means he's not one of the experienced professional officeholders they despise.  Better an entertaining egomaniac buffoon than the hated establishment.

Hillary may be well ahead in the polls, but the polls in the UK suggest that a lot of people told pollsters they were voting to remain, when in fact they voted to leave. Pollsters are also part of the despised system.  (And the polls are much closer in some swing states anyway.)

There's a limit to the numbers that white racists can access in the US in a presidential election, and the guy who threw golf balls onto Trump's course that were etched with swastikas indicates that a lot of people know what's at stake.  But there may be this contagion.

 Only time will tell if, in any sense, the Brexit vote was the bullet that got an obscure archduke, or an indicator of a desperation that invites apocalypse.  If so, it will not yield to logical analysis.  There will be reasons but not reason enough.  It will have gone beyond that, an eruption from a collective unconscious that sows anarchy at precisely the time that civilization needs systems of cooperation and responsive institutions on a global scale.

Update: Two late stories of interest: Tim Teeman in Daily Beast suggests GB is undergoing a certain buyer's remorse already over Brexit, including some of the leaders who promoted it:  "On Friday morning, the so-called respectable figures of the Brexit campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, looked as shocked and ashen as those who wanted to remain in the EU. If there is triumphalism it is of the most funereal sort. Britain is split down the middle, and all Johnson really wants to do is play politics, pitching at his first press conference to be Prime Minister."

And a Washington Post story says that Britons have been "frantically Googling what the EU is" hours after they voted to leave it.  NPR, the Atlantic and other outlets jumped on the same phenomenon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Climate Crisis: Extremes and Extremists


Summer begins with an intense heat wave in parts of the western U.S.   Monday record-breaking heat in Phoenix, Arizona pushed the 115F mark.  Several deaths are already attributable to the heat.

Such temperatures are the beginning of a practical education in extreme heat.  Because at a certain point it is not just hotter.  It is extreme, with its particular and extreme consequences.  For example: "Health experts say even a difference of a few degrees outside can cause the body temperature to spike, potentially affecting the brain and other organs."

Update 6/23: Scientific American: "As many as 3,331 people annually could die from heat waves by 2080 in New York City alone if no steps are taken to adapt to warming temperatures and reduce emissions, a new study warns."

Extreme heat is quiet --it isn't as dramatically obvious as a tornado or a monsoon.  But as a Weather Channel feature titled You Will Never Guess What Kind of Weather is Deadliest says:"Violent winds from a hurricane or tornado, lightning from thunderstorms, and rising floodwaters come to mind. But the weather event that actually produces the greatest number of fatalities is heat."


Extreme heat also has consequences for the natural and human-made environment, including infrastructure.  In part of Arizona yesterday it was even too hot for airplanes to fly safely.

Despite the now routine warnings that come with news of extreme heat--including that due to the climate crisis, there's going to be more of it--extremists still deny the connection, and are therefore less likely to prepare for this onrushing future, personally and at any level of community.

How is this possible? To admit this is something other than some freak weather is to accept the reality of the climate crisis--which is to begin to accept the climate crisis future.  And to realize that there is a discouragingly noisy and contemptuous group that constitutionally and perhaps professionally, deny it and any efforts to address it, and do so with violence.

Even now, it is possible to avoid some of the most ominous signs of the climate crisis.  Maybe news about the increasingly alarming Arctic warming is just too far away.  Or the invisible carbon pollution, that scientists at the same Hawaii observatory that made the first carbon measurements in the 1950s saw spiking to the  level of 400 parts per million--a measurement since confirmed by every observatory in the world, including Antarctica.  This is the highest level in 400 million years, and is unlikely to fall below this level in the lifetime of anyone alive today, implying grave consequences.

Even global temperature rise--which not surprisingly broke records for the 13th straight month in May--are not obvious everywhere.  But the consequences are increasingly obvious, and the situation is so pronounced that scientists are no longer shy about linking effects like the recent European flooding to global heating as a cause.

Some of the tepid or inconstant response to the climate crisis is probably because it's a brand new danger, at least consciously.  Seeing its dimensions, its ramifications to consider when making decisions, requires big adjustments.

So maybe it isn't too surprising that Americans are once again moving in greater numbers to the South, looking for lower living costs and jobs, even though that's where heat and related factors are going to be pronounced.  And again they're moving to Florida, where its already inundated coasts and general low-lying relationship to sea level rise get added to heat and the predicted ferocity of hurricanes.

But a lot is stubborn denial--and denial by its nature is stubborn.  Some denial is healthy, and might even be courage, although in extreme heat, bravado can get you killed.  But a lot of denial is not healthy, and is something like cowardice.

Denial is a powerful habit, a protective mechanism against fear and the necessity of changing to confront dangers.  In his long professional life from the 1930s into the 21st century, American writer Arthur Miller concluded in his autobiography that nothing is more politically powerful and culturally pervasive than denial.

Extremists who huddle together in systematic denial may sooner or later need to confront phenomena like extreme heat, extreme storms, extreme fires, while they deny the causal relationship that could help prepare for dealing better with these effects, and help address the causes that might prevent even worse consequences in the farther future.

By now we know they are always with us, in however dwindling number, and like the extremists who with a straight face can vote against denying guns to terrorists, their residual power--and the power of denial--can still warp our world.

But those who know better and are young must take leadership in saving the future. In a different context recently, history filmmaker Ken Burns quoted Abraham Lincoln, but one part of the quote especially pertains to how we choose to address the climate crisis future: "We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.”

Monday, June 20, 2016

Happy 70th, Joe K.!  Founder and past president of the Greensburg Central Catholic High School Keilbasa Club.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day

The idea of a Father's Day was first proposed by a woman, Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington.  It came to her during a church service on Mother's Day in 1908.  Mother's Day was a state by state holiday then; it became federally recognized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.  Mrs. Dodd's mother had died in childbirth, and she was raised by her father.

But Father's Day turned out to be a harder sell.  It was widely celebrated, thanks to the greeting card industry, but it wasn't federally declared until President Richard Nixon, who had already ordered the Watergate break-in and started the cover-up, bombed Cambodia and widened the Vietnam War, had his aides compile and begin using an Enemy's List, permanently established Father's Day in 1972.  So enjoy!

We Hold These Truths



Regardless of Trump's actual chances to be elected President of the United States, his candidacy offers an opportunity to revisit and restate certain values implicit in the American form of government--or more accurately, forces such an effort.  In particular, it's an opportunity to reclaim from the rabid right a living connection to the Founders and the founding documents of the US.  That connection was eloquently and meaningfully expressed for example, at the end of 1941.

On December 15, 1941, all the radio networks in the US carried an original drama called "We Hold These Truths," to mark the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. The program had been commissioned by the Office of Education and scheduled some time before, but its air date turned out to be just 8 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and a week after the US officially entered World War II.

All four radio networks carried it simultaneously--the first time that had happened-- probably in part because President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the end of it. It was heard by an estimated 63 million Americans:the largest radio audience on record, almost half the US population at the time.

This one-hour program, included above, is as alive and compelling today as it was in 1941.  Not only because of its excellent production values, but because it speaks to us today, especially in the fog of Trump.

 The on-air talent included Jimmy Stewart (already in uniform), Walter Huston, Lionel Barrymore, Edward G. Robinson and other stars of the day.  New music was written for the program, played by an orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

But the most important participant was Norman Corwin, its producer and writer.  His name is not much remembered, though he influenced many younger writers and journalists, and was a major influence on these times. Working for CBS radio, he wrote and produced at least 60 programs during the war years, most of them dealing one way or another with the moral issues of the war.  He was called the poet laureate of radio drama for his powers of expression, in a medium that lived on words.

Corwin later recalled the freedom he had working for CBS.  Once a topic was agreed upon, he never had to describe the approach he would take or submit a script in advance.  One assumes this was the case with "We Hold These Truths."

Corwin's work was so esteemed and so popular that several series of his programs bore his name.  His scripts were reprinted in magazines, and his radio plays were adapted into stage plays across America.

In his wartime dramas Corwin returned, over and over, to two primary issues that were on a lot of minds during World War II.  The first had to do with the reasons that soldiers (American and Allies) were fighting and dying..  The second was related--the conviction that this war could not end up being a repeat of World War I in leading to an even worse war in a generation, that it had to end by establishing a lasting peace through universal rights and global cooperation.

In this broadcast, Corwin was connecting the ideas behind the Bill of Rights with the primary aims for Americans fighting World War II.

Despite the fact that a few Founders had speaking parts, "We Hold These Truths" was not a mealy-mouthed historical pageant for radio.  When some of the 13 states refused to ratify the Constitution until a Bill of Rights was added, Congress assembled to produce those ten amendments.  Corwin did not express the reasons for these amendments through the voices of statesmen, let alone lawyers.  He didn't present arguments, explanations, abstractions.  Some of those reasons were expressed in common sense terms by ordinary people, as they did their jobs.  But some weren't expressed in words at all.

They were expressed in cries of pain, moans and screams.  They were expressed on behalf of people garroted, guillotined, lynched, hanged, burned, shot and slaughtered for suspicions and allegiances based on religious belief, political activities, ethnicity and race. In perhaps his boldest move, Corwin included Jesus Christ among these victims, crucified "because rulers didn't allow free speech, executed over an issue of the rights of man."

The most impassioned speech of the program--not at all in the magisterial tones for which he would later be known--was delivered by the young Orson Welles, describing the final result: the Bill of Rights.  In part (uncertainly transcribed from the broadcast) :

"The Congress of the 13 states, instructed by the people of the 13 states, threw up a bulwark, wrote the hope and made a sign for their posterity against the bigots, the fanatics, bullies, lynchers, race haters, the cruel men, the spiteful men, the sneaking men, the pessimists, the men who give up fights that have just begun.  The Congress wrote a ten part epic of amendments."   

This obviously contains contemporary 1941 issues that the Founders wouldn't have expressed in this way. Corwin often railed against the "America First" Nazi sympathizers who saw the Nazis as the wave of the future and opposed the US entering the war (just as he would defend the 'premature anti-Fascists' targeted by Ray Cohn and the 1950s blacklisters), and some of the language is directed at them.  But a lot of it pertains to contemporary 2016 issues, too.

It is well to remember that for all the other reasons and motives unpacked by historians of our age, a guiding impulse in the Bill of Rights was to protect all by protecting everyone against tyranny, and that the "everyone" these rights apply to has broadened to include, by now, just about everyone-- in law if not in practice--225 years after the Bill of Rights.

That broadening process was well underway in 1941, and so it was broadly believed--from FDR to soldiers that Corwin met in the US and abroad--that the US was fighting to defeat tyranny, and the rule of bigotry, race-hating, fanaticism, state bullying and cruelty.  In the modern world, these were represented as the ideology and machinery of Fascism.

In 1941 the US was a country made up largely of immigrants and especially the children and grandchildren of immigrants. There were wide differences between the richest and poorest, urban and rural, and according to regions.  Though the cultures and ethnicities prevalent then didn't include many well represented in 2016, the country was still "multi-cultural," if only because European countries and cultures were more distinct in 1941, with many religious denominations etc. within them.  So universal rights resonated. Equality was crucial.  At the end of this broadcast, FDR used the word "liberty" over and over.

The titanic effort--beyond what most Americans today can even imagine-- to defeat Hitler and Mussolini in World War II was to defeat what they did and would do, to prevent them from imposing racism, state censorship and dictatorship on a conquered America but also to rid the rest of at least western civilization from these threats and this rule.  This was understood as patriotism in 1941, as coming directly from the Founders and the Bill of Rights.

(Of course, it was not understood that way by everyone.  In an essay that accompanies the script of a later program, Corwin references a Republican "smear campaign with nonaccidental anti-Semitic overtones" conducted against a union leader who supported FDR, during World War II.)

So when Trump is likened to Hitler and Mussolini, this is why.  These truths may not be so self-evident these days, but there does seem to be a residual instinct that overrides some political polarization and partisanship when these rights are overtly threatened, by "a racist bully."

Opposition to such Trumpeting is often expressed in political  terms (it offends certain segments of the electorate), or because it's said too bluntly in a socially unacceptable vocabulary and tone.  But the threat behind these words is the same as presented by Fascist governments with their armies in 1941, and the same as policies inflicted on people through the ages by kings and warlords, churches and governments, which motivated the Bill of Rights.  The threat is to human liberty for each and therefore all, and to the commonwealth and the nation as established in the Constitution and its ten epic amendments.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Guaranteed Income 2016 Update

Added to my post on the Guaranteed Income 2016 is reference to a new column in the New Yorker that takes a positive view of proposals for what the author calls the Universal Basic Income.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Shadows

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," was the historic line by Barry Goldwater that inflamed the 1964 Republican convention.  But his widow says that even Barry would be appalled by the Donald.

What would be his reaction? she was asked.  "Yuck," was her reply.

Barry would be appalled by Mr. Trump’s behavior — the unintelligent and unfiltered and crude communications style. And he’s shallow — so, so shallow.’”

Levine said she generally finds Trump’s candidacy “crazy and inappropriate”: “I can't believe we are doing this as a country," she said of Trump.


Other Republicans were also running the other way, and there was some noise again about trying to deny him the nomination at the Republican convention in two weeks.  Some of it driven by disgust but much of it by Trump's ocean-floor negatives in recent polls. As a Politico story began: In 2016’s race to the bottom, Donald Trump is going to find out if you can become president when two-thirds of Americans don’t like you — and a majority can’t stand you.  

Another day, another fantastic revelation about Trump's greed--this time a Washington Post story about his financial ties to Russia.  So the Republican party candidate is not only involved in a mutual admiration society with the dictator of an historic and growing adversary, he's financially in bed with their oligarchs and their likely criminal enterprises.

The WAPost also details Trump's relationship with mentor Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy's right hand man and pretty much the personification of twisted evil in the darkest days of the 1950s. "Cohn also showed Trump how to exploit power and instill fear through a simple formula: attack, counterattack and never apologize."

In his NY Times column entitled A Week for All Time, Timothy Egan writes:"They will remember, a century from now, who stood up to the tyrant Donald Trump and who found it expedient to throw out the most basic American values — the “Vichy Republicans,” as the historian Ken Burns called them in his Stanford commencement speech."

Another dark political shadow passes over the western world with the murder of Jo Cox, a prominent young British MP and leader, an advocate for humanitarian causes and immigration, by a man who--it was revealed today--has direct and long-standing ties to a US neo-Nazi organization.  In this murder he may even have used a gun that he made himself from instructions obtained from this group.

It is widely reported that he shouted "Britain First!" as he shot and stabbed this 41 year old woman outside a library.  It is the slogan of a far right group that stages anti-Muslim demonstrations, adopted by some opponents of the UK's membership in the European Union, which is up for a vote next week.

It is of course echoed in Donald Trump's new slogan, "America First!" which itself was first used by Nazi sympathizers in the US in the late 1930s.

And while Trump's latest inflammatory and racist statements have been met with almost universal condemnation from even Republican politicians,  polls show that a bare majority of the public disapproves, and by a slight margin, Trump is preferred over Clinton to handle an "Orlando-like attack."

The Guaranteed Income 2016

For the past 40 years, nobody wanted to hear from the Guaranteed Income, which was once a live proposal and even a live possibility in the 1960s, as a way of circumventing the social disaster in the likely future of large numbers of people losing their jobs and income, because of what was then called automation.

But some folks--mostly academics and Europeans--kept up the conversation, though it could also be uncharitably characterized as a lot of academic noise with some signal.  Then this year, somewhat in response to growing wealth disparity, the idea resurfaced.

There are various names for it--Basic Income Guarantee (BIG, which holds an annual conference and has a website), Universal Basic Income, Guaranteed Income, etc.

One version of it actually made it onto the ballot in Switzerland, not because politicians proposed it but because the idea got 100,000 Swiss signatures.  The proposal was soundly rejected, though the vagueness of the proposal as well as its novelty probably didn't help.  But pilot project versions are proposed or in the works elsewhere in Europe.  There's also a pilot project for the very poor in Kenya and Uganda.

The Swiss debate did recycle basic arguments for the idea--the impact of automation, the economic consequences of large drops in consumer demand due to lost incomes.

In many ways it is still such a novel idea that the New York Times got the topic of the Swiss measure wrong, and it's a good bet that even well-informed Swiss citizens didn't fully understand it.  It is however getting some hearing in the US.

Though initially proposed by economists with no particular political ax to grind, it has usually been supported from the left, most notably by Martin Luther King, Jr. From the right the objection was easy: it's money for nothing, sapping initiative, etc.  (Although the actual objection might be closer to making wage slavery and almost free labor a thing of the past.)  But certain rightists, such as Charles Murray, are now behind their own version.  However, his proposal is basically an efficiency measure aimed at replacing all existing social programs, including Social Security.  No hidden agenda there.

There are Libertarian versions, and the idea is reportedly percolating in Silicon Valley.  But once again, it depends on what's actually being discussed.  In the NY Times, columnist Eduardo Porter argues against a "universal" income proposal--i.e. giving everybody in the country a set amount --regardless of their current wealth.  Which is the easiest proposal to destroy, so it's almost a straw man.   (His other objections are in this dialogue.)

What the idea originally meant I believe was a guaranteed minimum income--that is, a guarantee that annual income won't be less that a certain amount.  Billionaires wouldn't get it, or at least wouldn't get to keep it.

So it seems a long way to go to something practical.  But as a basic idea, it has a certain elegance as a solution to real and growing problems.

First, there's current need.  The stupidities of the Consumer Price Index apparently says that the cost of living is not increasing (at least, that's how Social Security interprets it--no cost of living increase this year.)  But a new study says what people outside the wealth bubble already know--the costs of everyday purchases are rising, and taking more of small and fixed incomes.  Fixed costs, like higher and higher rent, that don't make a dent in big budgets, soak up a perilously greater percentage of the small.

Second, the reason the guaranteed minimum income was first proposed is already a reality, and is likely to get worse.  While certain politicians want to blame the economic troubles of a former working class growing into an underclass on immigration and bad trade deals, the reality is more complex--and apart from things like corporate greed taking jobs to countries where near- or actual slave labor is available, a big cause is robots.  And the trend is "engineering the labor out of the product"--i.e. more robots, and automation of tasks performed not only by factory workers and clerks but skilled office, medical and even professional occupations.  So the future those 60s folks envisioned is getting here fast, and for a growing number of people, already here.

There is the somewhat different problem of the virtual economy--the online centers of wealth--employing relatively few people, and putting a lot of other people out of work (like freelance print journalists I could name.)  In Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford notes that General Motors peak earnings were $11 billion in 1979, when it employed 840,000 (union) workers.  In 2012 Google cleared $14 billion, with fewer than 38,000 (mostly nonunion) workers--some of them very well paid, and a lot not so much.  That's a lot of purchasing power gone from the economy, as well as a lot of waste.

In terms of the economy, there's the worry that in the event of a new recession, the usual fiscal tools aren't available (you can't reduce 0% interest rates) and the current support programs aren't going to be sufficient to prevent a steep rise in poverty and further wounds to the economy from less consumer spending.  So something that doesn't exist now will be needed.

Even without steep recession, some economists argue that we can't depend on technology to continue to fuel economic growth, for society at large and certainly not for a great many people.

The guaranteed income idea was always meant to fulfill a social as well as economic need, and indeed, an opportunity for an affluent society to free humans from the increasingly unnecessary and coercive burdens of working for the money to live.  The benefits in human freedom and creativity to make the choice to pursue work and ideas without being forced to serve the self-interests of people in power  might also mean great benefits to human society, and even the economy.

There's also the idea of a revived WPA, supported by the likes of economist Robert Reich, as government employment for public works, which often goes by the name of infrastructure.  There might even be some combination of guaranteed minimum income with public service.

Taking it from a different direction, the time may come fairly soon, under the pressure of the climate crisis and its effects, that the idea of a guaranteed minimum income will seem  like a sensible transition to a radically different economic order in the future.

Update:James Surowiecki's column in the New Yorker summarizes in better depth the history and current status of Guaranteed Income (which he calls the Universal Basic Income or UBI) proposals and concludes: "If the U.B.I. comes to be seen as a kind of insurance against a radically changing job market, rather than simply as a handout, the politics around it will change. When this happens, it’s easy to imagine a basic income going overnight from completely improbable to totally necessary." He starts the column with a real world successful experiment in Canada in the 1970s I wasn't aware of.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Bigot Who Would Be President

The spectacle of Donald Trump's attempt to become President of the United States continues to boggle the mind as well as chill the blood.

 He now faces an apparently unrelentingly hostile news media, which is not only finally reporting more fully on his incessant river of lies, but is doing so without the traditional patina of respect.

His latest pronouncements on terrorism and immigration have joined nearly all of his recent mouthings in being roundly condemned by Democrats (with President Obama winning particular praise for his latest dismemberment of Trump's positions, without ever naming him) but also Republicans who are actually supporting him for the office he seeks.  It's political surrealism every day.

Recent investigative reporting by the New York Times and USA Today reveal some further dimensions of dishonesty and sleaze in his business dealings, including stiffing small businesses and possibly using real estate projects to pay his personal debts.  Trump responds, not with any factual defense, but by accusing the media outlets and banning them from covering his campaign events.

Trump jumped on the Orlando massacre as an opportunity, plainly saying that his numbers always go up after a terrorist attack.  But this time he appears to have overplayed his hand. "For months, some progressives have worried that a terrorist attack could tip the election to Trump, because he might be seen as an avatar of strength," wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells in the New Yorker. "That attack came on Sunday, and, after Trump’s scapegoating reply, those worries have eased. A Bloomberg poll released Tuesday showed Clinton leading her Republican rival by twelve percentage points; fifty-five per cent of likely voters polled swore that they would “never” vote for the casino mogul. It’s hard for Trump to be seen as a protector when it isn’t clear whom he would be willing to protect."

The poll he cites was taken half before Orlando and half afterwards.  (Wallace-Wells also makes the point that the killer's motives aren't limited to foreign terrorists. "Mateen’s bigotry, in the descriptions collated in the news reports, belonged to a familiar American strain, sometimes animated by religion but sometimes not."  He appears to have been a bigot, just as Trump expresses his own bigotry.)

A Washington Post poll (taken before Orlando) affirms the disdain with which many many Americans view Trump's candidacy.  "There is no equivalence" as the Plum Line puts it, between Hillary's relatively high negatives and Trump's stratospheric negatives.  Fewer than one-third of all Americans have a favorable view of him.  "Trump is viewed unfavorably by 73 percent of moderates; 77 percent of women; 89 percent of Hispanics; 88 percent of nonwhites; 75 percent of voters under 40; 59 percent of whites; 71 percent of white college graduates, 67 percent of white women, and even 52 percent of white men and 53 percent of non-college whites."  The only group that gives him a slight edge of favor is non-college white men.

Another poll in California suggests that Bernie voters are sufficiently motivated by the rise of Trump to come home to vote for the Democratic nominee, and this is even before Sanders gives his public support.

Yet every day brings news that renews the sentiments of a Jonathan Chiat column headline from way back a week or more ago: A Trump Presidency Just Got a Lot Less Likely — and a Lot More Terrifying.

Common Sense, Common Good

The weariness in the voice and demeanor of President Obama when he first talked about the Orlando gun massacre illustrated what he has often called his biggest disappointment in office, the failure of the federal government to enact the most basic controls over deadly rapid-fire semi-automatic guns, or access to them.

On Wednesday Senate Democrats began an old-fashioned talking filibuster on guns while actual negotiations were going on about a bill that would at least prevent those on terrorist watch lists from buying these guns so easily. For awhile it seemed the dimensions of this massacre finally broke some common sense loose from the political rigidity--the polaritics--of Washington.  Even Donald Trump and the NRA made encouraging noises on this subject, but at least by Wednesday's end, actual effective legislature looked almost as far from reality.  (Although a late report suggests that Republicans will allow some unspecified gun control bills to be voted on.)

But as on so many other problems that more local officials must deal with, states have led on banning assault weapons, especially since Newtown.

While the Orlando massacre has again dramatized divisions on this and other issues, it also has revealed some soul searching on homophobia and on how the media glorifies mass killers (just as this one checked the Internet during the standoff inside the club to see how his mass murders were being covered.)  It also evoked a sense of community beyond just the various geographical, identity and ideological "communities" in response to the victims.  Common sense for the common good may still be on the other side of polaritics, but empathy at least is evoked and alive when specific human beings are the focus.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

An American Tragedy

In the wake of the mass killings in Orlando and the twisted response by Donald Trump, President Obama's widely quoted remarks on Tuesday were sometimes characterized as a tirade.

But those impassioned words were a fraction of what he said, and came at the end of a report on a National Security Council meeting on the progress of counter-ISIL efforts.  The meeting had long been on the schedule, but as President Obama said, inevitably the available information on the Orlando shootings dominated the discussion.

No current information suggests that the American-born shooter was directed by any foreign group, though he was apparently familiar with the ideology of ISIL and other terrorist organizations principally from Internet sites.  This comports with the information news media are reporting, of a very tangled state of affair with this particular man.

The full remarks (transcript here; video here) catalog efforts, many of them successful, to destroy ISIL where it lives.  But ISIL prospers from the sense of oppression, and President Obama was justifiably angry with Trump's policies that would oppress Muslim Americans as well as deny immigration on the basis of a religion--enacting precisely the policies that ISIL could use as evidence of oppression, to stir many new converts.  (This was his focus, rather than Trump's less that subtle implication that the President is an ISIL sympathizer if not co-conspirator.)  Hillary Clinton in Pittsburgh made similar points in her direct refutation of Trump's speech (I haven't read it, but here's the Times report.)

Trump, very Republican-like, needs everyone not to know the strenuous efforts the Obama administration has made and its many successes in weakening ISIL, or else his implications would appear ridiculous.  Their charges insult not only Obama but the entire US national security apparatus, our armed forces and our global allies.

As for mass shootings that include those perpetrated by self-styled political terrorists,  there is something that can be done to substantially reduce the risk of these events.  It's something supported by police and military leaders.  From President Obama's statement:

"Enough talking about being tough on terrorism. Actually be tough on terrorism, and stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons. Reinstate the assault weapons ban. Make it harder for terrorists to use these weapons to kill us. Otherwise, despite extraordinary efforts across our government by local law enforcement, by our intelligence agencies, by our military, despite all the sacrifices that folks make, these kinds of events are going to keep on happening. And the weapons are only going to get more powerful."

Whether the potential perpetrator is a political terrorist or a person with heavy psychological problems or both, reducing easy access to weapons that one person can use to kill and severely wound 100 people in minutes is an obvious and fairly simple move.  As was painfully obvious in President Obama's first statement on the Orlando gun slaughter, the continuing failure to do this continues to be an American tragedy.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Cosmos Thoughts



It's been a mostly gray week on the North Coast, not unusual for summer, at least until recent years.  This time the high gray of the marine layer (a more precise name for high uniform fog) was joined by darker and lower clouds that threatened rain but produced only a brief night shower.  On another night the combination also led to the light moisture in the air that accumulated wet touches on the leaves, barely discernible on the street, that's also characteristic of this place.

Today however was bright and windy--days like this seem more frequent.  And since it is the weekend, it was noisy with leaf blowers and lawn mowers, as well as two young men blasting around in what now is called a vintage car, but in the past was known as a hot rod.

Last night the sky was clear enough for me to see the moon and some stars, and a bright pin of red that I knew must be Mars.  It is particularly close now, though receding from its closest point this time around, in May.  Its orbit swings it nearer to Earth once or twice every 15 years or so (though its very closest pass which happened in 2003 won't be repeated until 2287.)

Interest in Mars perked up during a few such close encounters in the late 19th century, when more powerful telescopes picked up surface features, mis-reported as "canals," which were then aided by imagination in suggesting a civilization on that planet.  When Mars came close again in the late 1890s, England and America in particular were in the grip of Mars Mania, and more than 50 novels about Mars and Martians were published, including the one that is still read today: H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.

That these novels were popular when Mars was big and red in the sky was not coincidence, but that I was watching episodes of Carl Sagan's 1980 Cosmos series was.  Sagan was a working scientist as well as an inspiring writer and personality, and he was heavily involved in the Viking missions, which landed the first spacecraft on Mars and sent back the first photos of the Martian surface.

His episode on Mars ("Blues for a Red Planet," also a chapter in the book version) begins with the opening of the H.G. Wells story, as emblematic of the hold Mars has had on imaginations.  Since then we've had the Martian rovers, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy that chronicles terraforming the planet and the first generations of Martians from Earth, the hit movie The Martian, and Internet billionaires who are fixated on going to Mars in their lifetime.

Sagan also had that dream of human habitation and some form of terraforming, but he prioritized saving the one planet still known to be "graced by life," the Earth.  I'm not sure the same can be said about some scientists and Internet billionaires.

In another episode, "The Backbone of Night," Sagan tells of being a child in Brooklyn who occasionally saw the stars and wondered what they were.  He went to the nearest library and asked for a book on stars.  At first he was given a picture book of Hollywood luminaries.  But then he got the one he wanted and learned for the first time that "stars were suns, only very far away.  The Sun was a star, but close up."

(You might wonder why he didn't learn this in school.  What he doesn't say is that when he made this first trip to the library he was five years old.  Precocious Carl even had vivid specific memories of being taken to the famous 1939 World's Fair in New York, when he was four.)

"The Backbone of Night" refers to the Milky Way, which is the point of departure for this episode. The particular coincidence of seeing this episode was that, on the same day, I read the melancholy finding that 80% of  North Americans can no longer see the Milky Way due to light pollution.  Almost everyone in the US looks into a light polluted sky.

One of the scientists involved in the study commented: "There are still people that can remember when they used to be able to see the Milky Way when they would walk outside at night, but those are becoming fewer and fewer."  I guess I'm one of the few, though it seems so unusual now that I can hardly believe that the Milky Way was a commonplace sight in my early childhood, as I lived on a hill of a neighborhood that didn't have streetlights, outside a small town.

I probably had a better view than young Carl in Brooklyn, who might not have seen much more of the night sky as I do now, when on clear nights there are only a scattering of stars visible from my backyard.  Carl Sagan, who believed he got his analytical skills and skepticism from his mother but his sense of wonder from his father, combined them as no one else has.  Maybe some of the science in Cosmos is outdated (and there is a more recent series that follows in his footsteps: the 3 minutes of the video above with Sagan's narration from another of his books is from that series) but his voice remains eloquent in expressing this necessary combination.

Polaritics and Trickle-Down Racism

The extremes represented by Donald Trump make the upcoming election a stark choice between evil and sort of good.  In a binary choice, the politics of polarization--polaritics--becomes inevitable.  Both sides will promote their visions of the Good while mostly bombarding us with the alleged Evil of the other one.  Of course, one of them is Evil, which complicates any argument against polaritics.

But what is usually and somewhat bloodlessly called the polarization of politics and of the American electorate is perhaps the greatest threat to democracy.  And it only takes one example to suggest why: In South Carolina last month, a tow truck driver refused to tow the car of a disabled woman because her car carried a Bernie Sanders sticker.  He left her stranded on the side of the road.

Polls show up to 90% unanimity on many issues according to party.  That's a bit troubling but more important is the lack of tolerance for divergent views.  Internet trolls may be leading the extreme abuse heaped upon people of another opinion, moving quickly to personal threats and violence, but it's becoming widespread.

When it begins to affect the basic social contract, more than symbolized by a tow truck driver whose job it is to render aid to fellow citizens, then society is in danger of falling apart.  Our society might agree that the owner-operator in this instance might be justified in refusing service because of inability to pay him, and in times and places (like South Carolina), such services would routinely be refused because of race.  But this is saying that the political candidate a person chooses to support in a major party primary marks that person as evil, as outside society.

This is just one case, but it is worthy of attention not because of its novelty but by its possible prophecy.  It sounds like the next step, and we do get the feeling that this is happening more than this once.  And once it does happen, it becomes an example for others.

It has its origins in theocratic politics most recently promulgated by the religious right, and in the behavior of Washington politicians, particularly Republicans, who oppose and condemn every idea supported by Democrats--especially by President Obama--even if it is an idea that Republicans recently supported or even originated.  And the easy vocabulary of hate, of hating Obama, of hating Hillary, that has gone mainstream.  There was plenty of Roosevelt hating in the 1940s, but by and large it was fringe.  Now the rabid right fringe is the establishment.

Donald Trump has wakened some Republicans to the danger, basically by being Donald Trump.  In today's news there are remarkable stories about a confab in Utah where party luminaries mixed with big donors, and some of those luminaries were outspoken in their dire warnings about Trump.  Meg Whitman reportedly compared him to Hitler and Mussolini.  An informal poll of big donors showed that only 20% were ready to back Trump with bucks, with others choosing "country over party."

 And Mitt Romney, of all people, contributed to the dialogue by highlighting an effect of Trump's candidacy that others have written about, but Romney gave it a name:

"I don't want to see a president of the United States saying things which change the character of the generations of Americans that are following. Presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry, trickle-down misogyny, all these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America."

At the moment Hillary is making this a teachable moment with her "Stronger Together" theme.  But it's about more than diversity as usually defined.  Political diversity, a diversity of ideas, are also at stake.  Our American society has been through this before (as has western civilization, many times, and eastern civilizations as well), for example the enforced conformity of the 1950s, patrolled by HUAC, the Blacklist, J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthyism, with the power to end careers, livelihoods, lives.

But political polarization that affects relationships at the root of society is particularly threatening given the likely future. This climate crisis-dominated near future will provide many tests and challenges (among others not directly related to climate that we can intuit may well present themselves.)  There will be many people who need help from strangers who are also neighbors.  There will be times when trust in each other, and in government and other institutions, will be matters of life and death.

In The Absolute At Large, one of the enormously skillful science fiction novels by the early 20th century Czech writer Karel Capek, a series of catastrophes rends civilization to tatters.  But some of the same people of a small town met at the beginning of the book manage to survive to the end.  They are discussing the reasons for the apocalypse they lived through.  One of them says: "Everyone has the best of feelings towards mankind in general, but not towards the individual man.  We'll kill men, but we want to save mankind.  And that isn't right, your Reverence.  The world will be an evil place as long as people don't believe in other people."

That's part of it.  But one doesn't have to be very optimistic about other people to realize that there's a principle worth putting into action.  Some people call it decency.  It doesn't sound like much, but if you read accounts of people in Europe who sheltered Jews and helped them escape the Nazis, it seems to be the difference.  It is the very powerful ethic of "you'd do the same for me."

That principle, that assurance is a necessity, which can be a trickle-up or trickle-across phenomenon as well as a trickle-down example by leaders.  In most basic societal ways, "We're all in this together" is a statement of fact as well as a rallying cry of principle.  It's how we act on it that's important, and social norms that support common decency are the social bedrock.  Trickle-down racism etc. starts breaking that down, but polaritics is already eroding it.    

Update: Divided response to the mass killings in Orlando Saturday night might be a tragic illustration of where this polaritics leads.  Both to the murderous violence itself, and in certain responses.